Commentary: What Questions Were Answered in Camp Kenosha?
by Jonathan Hodges
For my final commentary before the 2008 season kicks off this Saturday, I'll
review the five questions I asked going into Camp Kenosha and determine if they
have been answered before Northwestern's first game against
First of all, one of the biggest issues of any training camp
that has specifically been a problem for NU over the past few years is
injuries. It seems like virtually every year there is a significant injury to a
starter or major contributor. The fortunate thing about Camp Kenosha 2008 is
that no starters were injured for the season; the only season-ending injury was
sustained by SB Drake Dunsmore, who saw some playing time last season as a true
freshman. While he was expected to contribute to the 'Cats' efforts and his
loss will be felt, the "superback" is still a position in the NU offense that is
not utilized on most plays, and NU has other options to fill in at that position
such as Rooks (another true freshman who saw playing time last year), Joplin,
Mitchell, and Woodsum. Otherwise, there were a few bumps and bruises but
nothing major that will see starters or backups missing significant time. (Note
that Gill will miss the opener against Syracuse due to a one game suspension for
a "violation of team rules," which was announced before heading to
1. Will the offensive line be
effective, especially considering its relative youth?
This question will only be answered with action against live
competition, which will come Saturday. The 2-deep was announced prior to the
game and it will be (from left to right): Netter, Kennedy, Burkett, Belding, and
Mattes. Fitz has been very high on Taylor, who can apparently back up multiple
positions, and performed well in camp. Don't be surprised to see him and Grant
(who has experience in games) come in during the game to allow the coaches to
test different combinations. Given that, only the performance against Syracuse
and the teams that follow will shed light on how the line is shaping up. The
key will probably be the play of the two guards: Kennedy and Belding. Although
Belding has the experience, he has apparently been pushed hard by Kennedy and
Taylor and has swapped positions around the line. 'Cats fans will see if Fitz
and the staff can settle on the starting 5 and their positions after game
2. How much different will the defense look under Hankwitz? So
far, more aggressive and more fundamentally sound.
question won't really be answered until the 'Cats hit the game field, as one
can't really tell how the defense is performing in scrimmages and drills, but
things are looking up. The attitude surrounding the defense at camp seemed
different - more confident in themselves and their coaching staff - and the
coaches were very focused in their mission when directing practices and speaking
to the media. First off, the focus was definitely there on being fundamentally
sound first from the players and the coaches. Secondly, basically all anyone
can talk about his how the scheme that he runs will bring out more
aggressiveness on defense and should benefit NU - particularly up front with the
DL. Of course we'll have to wait until live action to get a real taste but all
signs point to improvement; the question is, how much.
Northwestern win all of its nonconference games? TBD
The attitude is
there: one game at a time; Fitz wouldn't stand for anything else. There are
some aspects of the nonconference opponents that should challenge the 'Cats, but
NU should be favored in each matchup. But, given NU's history in nonconference
play coupled with the ever-present upset factor, nobody will know the answer to
this until September 20th.
4. Will the offense improve from
last year (NU led the conference in total offense but was 10th in
scoring)? Signs are pointing to yes.
will know until the offense gets some reps on the field, but McCall's offense
seems perfectly suited to NU's talent on offense. With a healthy Sutton and a
more balanced attack including more rushing, NU should be in better shape. Last
season NU suffered when the pass-heavy attack sputtered in the red zone thanks
to much less field for the opposing defense to cover and the fact that they
could rush the passer without abandon. This season, the no huddle should help
mitigate defensive substitutions in the red zone that would hamper the NU
offense and a "go to" rusher in Sutton is a key weapon.
5. Will Fitz's head coaching
performance continue to improve? Yes
I can answer this
one just looking back at his hires for OC, DC, and DL coach. But the season
will definitely be a further test; fortunately he has HIS staff in place that he
trusts and can fall back upon - not that he didn't trust the staff before, but
now it is truly his team of coaches. It seems as though he is opening up more
to fans and the media after being in an akward situation for a couple of years
while getting his feet wet. I believe we'll see him begin to shine in game
situations along with his recruiting skills paying off and his ability to
develop players showing up, too.
All 'Cats fans (and CFB fans) should be
looking forward to this weekend - I know I am very much anticipating the kickoff
to the 2008 season!
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